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Thursday, 2 April 1998
Page: 2389

Mr BARTLETT —My question is to addressed to the Prime Minister. Could the Prime Minister inform the House how the government is enhancing the care of older people in the community and providing greater recognition and support for carers?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I would like to take the opportunity, in replying to the honourable member for Macquarie, to endorse everything that the Minister for Family Services has said about the figures being flung around erroneously by the member for Jagajaga. The reality is that the package I announced this morning to the annual meeting of the Carers Association was an Australian first in terms of encouraging and supporting older Australians to remain in their own homes.

All of my colleagues know, and I think all members of parliament know, that the heart felt desire of older Australians is to stay in their own homes. That is what they want to do. Whilst governments have responsibilities in relation to residential care, they also have a very strong human responsibility to provide resources to enable as many Australians as possible in their older years to remain in their own homes.

That is why we have decided to put an additional $92 million over a period of four years into community aged care packages. The effect of this, along with the growth of the existing programs, will be to more than double to 22,000 the number of elderly Australians who will be cared for in their own home environment. Community aged care packages are about providing services in the home to enable Australians to stay in their homes. There is nothing more important to elderly Australians than the opportunity to remain in their own home, and it is overwhelmingly the preference of older Australians that they remain in their home rather than go into residential care.

I am also very proud that the announcement I made this morning to the Carers Association broke new ground in recognising the contribution to our community of those who care for people with frailties and disabilities. They are, without any doubt, the unsung heroes of any civilised and compassionate society. They have for a long time deserved more recognition, and it is a real privilege to be at the head of a government that will provide an additional $92 million over a four-year period from 1 July 1999, which will bring about the merging of the domiciliary care benefit and the child disability allowance.

As a result, there will be an additional 14,000 carers in the Australian community who will receive the benefit of the new carer allowance. This will include many thousands who are caring for elderly Australians with dementia. It will also include people who are looking after their relatives and friends with profound intellectual impairment. It is by any measure a compassionate new policy. It is by any measure a recognition that for too long this dedicated band of Australians has been ignored.

One of the special features of this new package is that we are recognising the particular concerns of elderly Australians who have often been caring for 20, 30 or 40 years for a disabled or impaired adult child. Their greatest worry is what will happen to their son or daughter when they themselves are too old to look after them. This policy will provide additional resources to address that particular group—some 8,000 very old Australians with a particular need. That particular measure is at the heart of the compassion which underlines this policy.

I thank the Minister for Family Services and I thank the Minister for Social Security. I believe this is an excellent policy. It is the sort of policy which exemplifies a caring, compassionate and civilised society. It is a policy that the coalition is proud to present to the Australian community.

Mr Crean —It's not the carers he's looking after; it's the Parers.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Hotham will keep quiet if he wants to stay here.